In the face of tight financials, deaccessioning can be a strategic—though unpopular—resolution. According to the artnet News
/In Other Words study, PAFA—in part thanks to its endowment fund—acquired works by women at a rate of five times the national average. In a similar move, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) sold seven works by men in 2018 to execute an unusual—and controversial
—acquisition plan as part of its 2020 Vision initiative. Over the course of the year, BMA is collecting
art by women only, and mounting exhibitions and programming to recognize women artists, to coincide with the centenary of the 19th amendment (which effectively gave white women the right to vote). BMA has earmarked $2.5 million for the acquisitions. Although that amount won’t help it reach gender parity in its collection—four percent of which is works by women artists—the plan is intended as a “bold way to make a statement about the underrepresentation of female-identifying artists in museums overall,” said BMA chief curator Asma Naeem.
“We thought that would be enough money spent to acquire a number of works that can make a statement on our walls and add to our collection,” Naeem added, clarifying that there is no target amount of work. “We’re not going in with a shopping list, but we want to have several landmark works and make sure we have a varied approach to the kinds of expressions of female-identifying artists.” She explained that curators of each department have examined holdings to identify key artists who could “create new narratives that we aren’t able to tell right now.” Curators then reach out to dealers to secure works. At the end of March, BMA will announce its first round of acquisitions. The museum is also intending to be transparent about the process and will launch a micro-website to share information about the acquisition process, which also involves input from scholars and artists of various gender identities and backgrounds.
“Ultimately, the goal is not to reach a percentage but to create a paradigm shift in how we view the ways that systemic biases and social structures have influenced what is defined as artistic excellence,” Naeem said. “We want people to have a hyper-awareness about representation.” How the BMA will sustain this effort past one year remains to be seen, but Naeem is hopeful that in that period, the initiative will have led to conversations about the value of women artists among the general public as well as art-world stakeholders, from dealers to collectors.